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Literary Links

Authors say Texas state museum canceled book event examining slavery’s role in Battle of the Alamo

This HAS to be the week’s lead story.

A promotional event for a book examining the role slavery played leading up to the Battle of the Alamo that was scheduled at the Bullock Texas State History Museum on Thursday evening was abruptly canceled three and a half hours before it was scheduled to begin.

“Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed he called for the event to be canceled.”

A Salute to Bosch: Everybody Counts or Nobody Counts

Last week I talked about how much I like Michael Connelly’s books about detective Harry Bosch and the Amazon Prime series based on the novels. Here Mike Avila talks with the cast and producers of the Amazon series, which he calls “well regarded for its crime noir aesthetic as well as its attention to detail regarding police work. . . [and] also adored by a passionate fanbase for its thoughtful characterization.”

Her Kind Of Blue: Joni Mitchell’s Masterpiece At 50

Ann Powers reports for NPR on Joni Mitchell’s album Blue, which came out in 1971, with an emphasis on its storytelling:

the creative process is as mundane as it is miraculous. It’s dribs and drabs and then a rush and then back to staring at the ceiling, wondering if the rush will come back. Blue is an album about working through something — a heartache, people say. But it’s just as much a document of the process of sharing that heartache, an inquiry into personal storytelling itself. Until Blue, Mitchell was getting there, but she hadn’t wholly figured out what she alone could say. That’s because what each person alone can say is, in its pure state, incommunicable. Stories are what get left behind as their tellers keep living and evolving. They’re always inconclusive.

8 Best Beach Reads for Lovers of the Literary Novel, by God Spare the Girls Author Kelsey McKinney

I’ve just begun reading Kelsey McKinney’s recently released debut novel, God Spare the Girls, which is an out-of-my-comfort-zone book for me (more on that in a later post), so I was drawn to this reading list that promises some good books. And a bonus for me is that I haven’t read any of these books. How about you?

Strawberry Moon

Super moon over Tacoma, WA, USA, April7, 2020

Here’s a different approach to literary discussion: “In her monthly column The Moon in Full, Nina MacLaughlin illuminates humanity’s long-standing lunar fascination. Each installment is published in advance of the full moon.”

Check this out if you’re interested in the relationship between literature and mythology.

Alt That’s Fit to Print: The dangers and rewards of speculative fiction

Gene Seymour admits to a fascination with “alternate reality” stories. As much as Seymour likes such stories, he worries that someone might mistake Colson Whitehead’s novel The Underground Railroad for “honest-to-Pete factual data”:

one of the dividends of alternate history, when it’s rendered well, is how it can illuminate actual things and events that happened in the past and quite often linger on in the present. To be drawn into such stories doesn’t mean you’re being taken. Sometimes, they wise you up.

For today’s feminist writers, sex makes a comeback

First-wave feminists focused on the burning issue of their day — suffrage. The second wave is focused on cultural critique. Our motto is “the personal is political,” and what could be more personal, or more provocative, than sex?

One problem: We can’t agree on what, exactly, feminist sex is.

Are All Short Stories O. Henry Stories?

“The writer’s signature style of ending—a final, thrilling note—has the touch of magic that distinguishes the form at its best.”

Louis Menand considers both the life and the literary output of William Sidney Porter, who published stories under the name O. Henry.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Fiction Last Week's Links Reading

Literary Links

20 Great Works of Philosophical Fiction

Rebeca Hussey here defines philosophical fiction as fiction that “encourages the reader to ponder big questions. It purposely provokes thought and debate.” Her list of philosophical fiction includes both contemporary and classic books.

‘Never stupid to ask questions’: Rare Raymond Chandler essay gives writing, office tips

Here’s a reprint of “a rarely seen essay” that is “a wry set of instructions Chandler issued to his assistant in the 1950s.” 

“Assert your personal rights at all times,” he tells her, along with several other instructions that might sound strange but refreshing to most office workers today.

A Secret Feminist History of the Oxford English Dictionary

Pip Williams, author of The Dictionary of Lost Words, explains why and how she wrote this book, which examines the participation of women in the production of the daddy of dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary.

Tiberius, Imperial Detective

This is an excerpt from the recent book A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome by Emma Southon, PhD. In this episode she explains why there was no official investigation of the murder of a woman named Apronia until her husband asked the emperor to look into it:

There was no representative of the state of Rome who would get involved in this case until Apronius took it to the emperor because, as far as the Romans were concerned, the murder of wives, children, husbands, or really anyone at all was absolutely none of their business.

What Is the Best Way to Teach Reading? A Literacy Professor Weighs In

A professor “who teaches people to teach kids to read” takes us on a tour of the “reading wars.” She looks at political involvement in the various controversies that have produced a sobering statistic: “two-thirds of United States 4th graders are reading ‘below grade level.’”

House Hunters: Zillow and the Murder Mystery

Nora Caplan-Bricker takes a deep dive into how the novels of Tana French use “the lust for property” to embody “the half-formed fears that hover at the edge of any mundane existence.”  

“French’s fiction captures the talismanic power of a house as well as anything I’ve ever read,” she writes. 

Children read more challenging books in lockdowns, data reveals

Children read longer books of greater difficulty during lockdown periods last year, and reported that reading made them feel better while isolated from the wider world, according to new research.

This news surprised me, but also warmed the cockles of my heart!

The Mortifications of Beverly Cleary

“The author recognized that humiliation is a kind of trauma—and that gentle humor could help neutralize it.”

A beautiful appreciation by Sophie Gilbert of children’s author Beverly Cleary, who died recently at the age of 104. Gilbert lauds the way Cleary “captured—sweetly, and with humor—all the ordinary ups and downs of childhood: sibling rivalry, misunderstandings, having a teacher who you can sense doesn’t like you.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Censorship Ebooks Fiction Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Literary History Reading Writing

Literary Links

How Reading Ebooks Changes Our Perception (and Reviews)

Kindle Paperwhite

Addison Rizer, a self-declared “avid Kindle reader,” writes, “I am curious about the ways reading ebooks changes the way we interact, and review, the novels we consume.”

The article contains lots of references, with links, to both scientific studies and popular sources. However, the discussion is unfocused; it includes discussion of viewing both art works and films in addition to reading books. Also, Rizer talks about screens, which could mean either a dedicated ebook reader (e.g., Kindle, Nook) or a laptop/desk computer computer screen. But reading on these three types of screens is decidedly different experiences. In fact, even reading on a Kindle differs from reading the same ebook with the Kindle app on a tablet (such as an iPad).

How ‘Lolita’ Escaped Obscenity Laws and Cancel Culture

Actor and screenwriter Emily Mortimer delves into Nabokov’s 1959 novel Lolita and how it managed to escape the obscenity laws of the era:

to my knowledge, no criminal case was ever brought against “Lolita,” which is surprising given that it appeared in the world at a time when literature was far from safe from the clutches of the obscenity laws, and given that it’s still the most shocking, sensational thing you’ve ever read.

Wisdom in the Work

Bookforum offers an interview by Emily Gould with Vivian Gornick about Gornick’s new essay collection Taking a Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time.

He Writes Unreliable Narrators Because He Is One, Too

“Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer for his debut, ‘The Sympathizer,’ recognition that was great for his career and bad for his writing. Now he’s back with its subversive sequel, ‘The Committed.’”

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Nguyen turned into what he calls “a public intellectual” who was “suddenly in demand as a speaker, panelist, late-night TV guest and op-ed writer, speaking up for refugees and immigrants at a time when both groups were being demonized.” But the demands of that public persona prevented him from writing fiction for a year.

Initially, Nguyen didn’t set out to write a series about a disillusioned spy. But when he finished “The Sympathizer,” he had grown attached to his sardonic narrator, whose voice came to him so naturally that it feels like his alter ego.

Sex, Noir & Isolation

“In his novels, Alfred Hayes explored what he saw as noir’s central concern: the inability to feel the reality of your own life, or anyone else’s.”

Vivian Gornick writes about the work of Alfred Hayes, a reporter, screenwriter, novelist, and poet who died in 1985 and who “has recently become something of a passion for those who find in his writing the mastery that makes a work of literature take up a permanent place in a reader’s inner life.”

Review: From William Styron to ‘American Dirt’: When is it appropriate to culturally appropriate?

Carolyn Kellogg reviews Appropriate: A Provocation by poet and writing professor Paisley Rekdal for the Los Angeles Times: “her basic thesis is that culture is situated in its moment; careful consideration of where each of us is in that moment informs what we create, how we read, what literature is lifted up and what is left out.”

We Can’t Believe Survivors’ Stories If We Never Hear Them

“Our ideas about which narratives are important, sane, or credible depend on what we see reflected in culture”

Rachel Zarrow argues that we must encourage survivors of trauma to tell their stories and we must listen to the stories they tell if we are to understand their experience. Although Zarrow focuses on survivors’ stories of sexual assault, her message applies to people who have experienced other traumas as well, such as political oppression, famine, war.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading

Literary Links

TIMES NEW ROMAN, ARIAL, AND HELVETICA: THE FONT FAVORITES, BUT WHY?

Melissa Baron looks into why, with hundreds of thousands of fonts in existence, Times New Roman, Arial, and Helvetica have become :the most widely used fonts ever.”

Old Novels as Therapy

“In these incredibly dark days, I’ve found solace talking to people I’ve known since childhood.”

Novelist Betsy Robinson explains why, right not, she’s finding solace in some old favorites, “books with a personal foundation already in place.”

10 Feminist Retellings of Mythology

Christine Hume, author of “Saturation Project,” recommends modern stories that turn patriarchal folklore on its head.

At the end of story-telling is myth-making: exhausted, stripped down narrative, pure grammar crystalized into affect. And when it’s good . . . Myth-structure holds the power to awaken us to our own history and also to make ourselves into strangers.

A Very Brief History of Reading

A good overview of the quintessential human experience of reading.

75 Debut Novels to Discover in 2021

If your reading list for 2021 isn’t yet long enough to be totally discouraging, Goodreads can help.

Sudden amnesia showed me the self is a convenient fiction

I read a lot of psychological thrillers, and one of the genre’s standard tropes is the narrator who wakes up with no memory memory of who she is or how she got here. 

Believe it or not, sometimes this actually does happen. Steven Hales writes about his experience with transient global amnesia (TGA).

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links slow reading

Last Week’s Links

Awards Introduction: 6 Literary Prizes and a Few Winning Books We Love

There are so many literary prizes that keeping them all straight becomes a problem. Who awards which ones, and what are the entry and judgment criteria? Here are descriptions of a few—Nobel Prize, National Book Award, Costa Award, Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize)—along with descriptions of some recent winners of each.

VAL MCDERMID DREAMS OF A LOST JOSEPHINE TEY MYSTERY

Val McDermid is one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers. Here McDermid explains why she, along with a lot of other writers of crime fiction, think so highly of novelist Josephine Tey, whom McDermid describes as “a bridge between the classic detective stories of the Golden Age and contemporary crime fiction.”

“Questions of identity permeate her novels,” writes McDermid. Also, “Tey opened up the possibility of unconventional secrets” such as homosexual desire, cross-dressing, and sexual perversion: “a dfferent set of psychological motivations” than had been seen in Golden Age detective fiction:

Without Tey cracking open the door, I don’t know how easy it would have been for writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell to have begun their own explorations of the darker side of human identity and sexuality. I know myself that reading Tey for the first time was like taking a lungful of pure air. I realised that crime fiction could be so much more than the bloodless entertainment I’d been enjoying up to that point. And her work helped me to understand that I could write books that dealt with serious aspects of human behaviour within the confines of genre fiction.

Science Says This Is the Simplest Way to Remember More of What You Read

Here’s yet another plug for the process of slow reading, which includes “giv[ing] yourself a little time to reflect on what you just read.” And such reflection need not involve a long, complicated process. The writer of this article includes a four-step summarization and reflection process and looks at some of the psychological evidence that supports its use.

Read on!

How Feminist Dystopian Fiction Is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety

“The Water Cure,” which comes out in the United States in January and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, joins a growing wave of female-centered dystopian fiction, futuristic works that raise uncomfortable questions about pervasive gender inequality, misogyny and violence against women, the erosion of reproductive rights and the extreme consequences of institutionalized sexism.

Alexandra Alter looks at the history of the dystopian fiction that women have been writing for decades and that continues into the political climate of the present.

YES, LITTLE WOMEN IS A FEMINIST NOVEL — AND HERE’S WHY

Kathleen Keenan writes:

I read Jo’s marriage to Professor Bhaer as a feminist commentary on the choices available to women at that time. To be taken seriously as a writer—something she desperately

wants—Jo is forced to face the sexist literary standards of her day. And as a character in a 19th-century novel, Jo is basically doomed to head to the altar, but Alcott makes her choice as subversive as she can.

She concludes:

Little Women argues that women’s lives are worthy of examination. Women’s stories deserve to be heard. Even when beloved female characters make disappointing choices, writing and sharing their stories is a feminist act.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Literary Criticism Literary History

Taproot woos fans of Dorothy L. Sayers in upcoming ‘Gaudy Night’

Taproot woos fans of Dorothy L. Sayers in upcoming ‘Gaudy Night’ | The Arts | The Seattle Times

Seattle Times theater critic Misha Berson provides some background on Dorothy L. Sayer’s ground-breaking character, Harriet Vane:

And what was groundbreaking about both “Strong Poison” and “Gaudy Night”? The brilliance and fierce independence of a witty, learned female character viewed by some scholars as the first openly feminist sleuth in mystery literature.

Frances Limoncelli’s stage adaptation of Sayers’s novel Gaudy Night, which received good reviews in Chicago, opens this week in Seattle.